The guides to anthropological theories and approaches presented here have been prepared by anthropology (and other) graduate students of the University of Alabama under the direction of Dr. Michael D. Murphy. This site was conceived as an introduction to some of the basic approaches that cultural anthropologists have pursued from the mid-19th century to the late-20th century. Its original goal was to help UA anthropology graduate students improve their performance on MA comprehensive examinations by directly involving them in composing study materials aimed at producing basic competence in some of the general contours of anthropological theoretical approaches since the inception of the discipline.
The first entries began to be put online in 1996 (five years before the appearance of Wikipedia), although it took several years to complete the series of sixteen modules. Over the course of subsequent years these modules were periodically updated by a succession of students in a graduate seminar on the history of theory in cultural anthropology; the last updates were posted in 2012.
There are no plans to add to these modules and major updates are not anticipated. In a certain sense this is a legacy site that is very distant from completeness and doomed to remain so. It is particularly wanting in its coverage of recent theoretical developments in cultural anthropology. Nevertheless, feedback from students (and others) across the world suggest that some at least continue to find the site to be a useful resource for gaining beginning competence in the development of anthropological theories, at least up to the 1990s when the project began.
Although there are now an abundance of sites on the internet relevant to anthropological theory (especially on Wikipedia, a project founded by Jimmy Wales, another former University of Alabama graduate student), one of the virtues of this site is that each module employs the same basic topical outline (albeit with a few lapses), making comparisons among the different approaches more transparent.
A Common Topical Outline
The discussion of each anthropological theory or approach is organized into a common set of topics:
- Basic Premises: a brief description of the general aims and methods of the theory in question.
- Points of Reaction: a consideration of the elements of previous anthropological (or other) approaches whose perceived deficiencies inspired new theoretical or methodological alternatives.
- Leading Figures: the identification of important scholars who contributed to the approach under review.
- Key Works: a list of central works in a theoretical school of thought.
- Principal Concepts: a brief account of some of the central concepts elaborated and employed by practitioners of this approach.
- Methodologies: a consideration of the methods and techniques employed by anthropologists pursuing this theory.
- Accomplishments: a very brief enumeration of some of the important accomplishments of this school of thought.
- Criticisms: a discussion of some of the essential deficiencies in this approach identified by both its practitioners and its critics.
- Sources and Bibliography: a partial listing of works that can contribute to a better understanding of the theory or school in question.
- Relevant Web Links: A few suggested web links for additional study.